Influenza, which typically hits the very young and the very old hardest, has especially impacted the 18-65 age group this year nationally and in South Carolina.
Of the 67 flu-related deaths in South Carolina this season, 38 were in the 18-65 age group. Of the 1,619 flu-related hospitalizations, 949 were in the 18-65 age group, according to weekly statistics from the state health department through Feb. 15.
While that broad age group comprises a large percentage of the population, it typically isn’t hit hard by the flu, because people those ages are more healthy than the very young or the very old.
Nationally, only 35 percent of flu-related hospitalizations in the past three years were in that age group. This year, 61 percent of hospitalizations have been in that group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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The unusual age trend this year “is a sad and difficult reminder that flu can be serious for anyone, not just the very young and old, and that everyone should be vaccinated,” said CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden. “Younger people may feel that influenza is not a threat to them, but this season underscores that flu can be a serious disease for anyone.”
The good news is that, in South Carolina at least, the season appears to be that while the outbreak remains widespread, it is on the downswing. The number of flu-related hospitalizations and the number of positive rapid flu tests have dropped the past three weeks, though some of the decrease last week could be related to the winter storm that kept people from getting to doctors’ offices.
An indication of how serious the flu has been this season, however, is that flu-related deaths have dropped only slightly in the state during the past few weeks. Seven were reported last week.
The age trend appears to be related to the predominant flu virus strain this year — H1N1. This is a variation on the virus that caused the swine flu pandemic in 2009, according to the CDC.
If you remember, school children were hit especially hard by that 2009 strain. Some health experts surmised older people had built up limited immunity to H1N1 years ago, but younger people had less immunity because the strain hadn’t been prevalent in a long time.
The major symptoms of the flu are rapid onset of body aches, high fever, sore throat, cough and lethargy.
The best defenses against the spread of flu include getting vaccinated, washing hands frequently and thoroughly, coughing into the inside of your elbow and staying home when you are sick.
Flu hits all ages
This season’s flu outbreak is impacting a wider variety of age groups than is typical.
Percent of flu-related hospitalizations among ages 18-64 in last three seasons: 35
Percent of flu-related hospitalizations among ages 18-64 this season: 61
South Carolina flu-related deaths this season in 18-64 age group: 38 out of 67 total
South Carolina flu-related hospitalizations this season in 18-64 age group: 949 of 1,619 total